The Scarlet Letter: Tales of Sin and Confession

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The Scarlet Letter: Tales of Sin and Confession

By: Zack Phillips

"The happiness of the wicked passes away like a torrent!" This quote from Jean Baptiste Racin summarizes The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne in one sentence. The novel's main focus is on three main characters and how the sins they commit affect their lives in the strict Puritan town of Boston around the year 1642. Hawthorne was very knowledgeable of his Puritan ancestry and shows it by incorporating some important thoughts and traditions into this story about sin and confession. Throughout the novel, the physical, social, mental and emotional changes that result from sin in the lives of the characters are never positive and the outcome of their spiritual battles are not always good; but the author makes it perfectly clear to us that concealing sin is not wise.

Hawthorne begins the first chapter of the novel with Hester's punishment. She had committed adultery, a crime that the Puritans often punished by death. She was sentenced to stand on the scaffold, a symbol of shame, for three hours in front of the whole town and to wear a scarlet letter "A" (meaning Adultery) for the rest of her life. She stayed loyal to her new partner and refused to expose his identity. Although she is not justified, Hester did not commit the greatest sin in the novel. Hers was a crime of passion and love, not premeditated or intended to hurt others. The sin in her actions was that her desire was of more importance to her than the Puritan moral code. This is proven when Hester says to Dimmesdale, "What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other!" Hester fully acknowledged her guilt and displayed it with pride to the world. The elaborately decorated scarlet letter and the style in which she clothed her daughter, Pearl, was proof of this. Hester is, indeed, a sinner and her crime was very serious. The book is named after the punishment she received for...
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